Allegany County government planning staff were directed Wednesday to review ordinances currently in place that might allow or restrict the development of wind turbine farms.
Phil Hager, county planner, said “it might be prudent” for staff to review what current regulations do and do not allow. County officials have remained out of the public spotlight in recent years as the potential for wind energy conversion turbines have focused on land in Garrett County. Allegany County last addressed the issue in 2002, Hager said.
The Planning Commission authorized county staff to “conduct a study of adequacy of current code,” as Hager requested.
Hager did not specify whether the county should, or does, favor wind turbines on either public or private land as a legitimate source of alternative energy. He did say that the county might have identified physical sites for such facilities and could have issued grading permits.
“I know exactly where they were at that time,” said Bill Davis, a longtime Planning Commission member.
Up to four wind farms were proposed for Allegany and Garrett counties from 2002 to 2004. One of them, proposed by U.S. WindForce, of Baden, Pa., wanted to build 25 turbines on 1,052 acres of strip mining property in the Big Savage Mountain area near Lonaconing, according to previous published reports.
Mountain-based sites, as well as the former PPG plant in the North Branch Industrial Park, were touted to industry officials in Spain and Japan in October 2002. Former House Speaker Cas Taylor said the property would be the “ideal location” for such a wind farm.
In June 2002, Jim Cookman, then of U.S. WindForce, told the Allegany County Planning Commission that wind turbines would be a “common sight” in Western Maryland.
Three months later, Taylor blamed overzealous bird enthusiasts for hampering the development of wind power projects. U.S. Wind Force even agreed with the state Department of Natural Resource to monitor the turbines’ intrusion on birds’ migratory flight paths. The company said it would turn off its turbines for 450 hours per year if data confirmed “a significant bird mortality rate due to rotating turbine blades.”
Both U.S. WindForce and Clipper WIndpower of California had wanted construction of the wind farms to begin by the end of 2003 to take advantage of tax credits.
In November 2003, construction plans were pushed back to the following year. Company officials hoped for an extension of the tax credit. At this point, both companies had all the licensing and permits necessary to begin construction.
In February 2004, House Speaker Michael Busch co-sponsored a bill designed to encourage development of wind power in Western Maryland. None of the elected officials from Allegany and Garrett counties endorsed the bill. Then Del. George Edwards expressed concerns about phasing out tax credits for hydropower and trash incineration. Edwards said the delegation supported wind power.
One month later, the Times-News reported the bill appeared dead in the Senate. Wind power advocates criticized “a small but powerful group of industrialists downstate,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
In October 2004, the Associated Press reported the proposal of a third wind farm – the second planned for Garrett County. But bird watchers were critical, citing “evidence of a grave ecological threat.”
Hager said Wednesday the review would be an effort to “stay ahead of the curve” of the inevitable dialogue bound to take place.
23 March 2008
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